Paternalistic social engineering or make-Britain-great-again utopianism? A new archive film collection takes a look at the UKs contentious postwar towns
” People sometimes say to me,’ You must get a terrific kick out of having been responsible for a huge thing like a new township ,'” said Sir Frederick Gibberd in an interview in 1982, 35 years after he organized the new municipality of Harlow.” Well, I get a lot of misery out of it, in fact. I go around thinking,’ My god, that’s unbelievably bad, and it could have been so good .'”
If that was what the designer supposed, gues how everyone else who moved to Harlow felt. The interview comes in a short film at the end of New Towns, Our Towns, a new collection of archive films from the Independent Cinema Office chronicling Britain’s pioneering postwar brand-new township progress- and our ongoing love-hate relationship with it. Paternalistic social engineering or make-Britain-great-again utopianism? Textbook example of the failures of macro modernism, or the type of bold, ambitious government initiative we need more of?
The project began in earnest with the New Towns Act of 1946, which sought to restore the nation’s housing stock after the second world war but likewise, in southern England, check the urban sprawl of London by enticing city-dwellers to modern accommodations outside the green belt. In the first phase, that required lieu such as Harlow, Basildon, Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead, in later periods, Peterborough and Milton Keynes– 22 townships in all.